LIFESTYLE

Food Revolution Day: Jamie Oliver On The 'Global Obesity Epidemic' And Importance Of Teaching Kids About Food

14/05/2015 22:33 BST | Updated 21/05/2015 19:59 BST

There were 43 million children under the age of five classed as overweight or obese in 2013.

Jamie Oliver says that we're in the throws of a "global obesity epidemic". And judging by these figures from the World Health Organisation, he'd be right.

In answer to the world's alarming obesity problem, Oliver has launched his biggest campaign ever: a global petition which sets out to persuade the governments of G20 countries to provide their nations’ children with the "basic human right” of food education in schools.

The petition has been backed by the likes of Usain Bolt, Kylie Minogue, Ryan Reynolds and Matthew McConaughey, and so far, the celebrity chef has garnered over one million signatures.

Although he's still got a way to go to hit his target of 1,500,000.

jamie oliver

Despite being half a million signatures off target, Oliver is remaining positive.

"You really can’t underestimate people power," he tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "Over the years, I’ve worked with many leaders and politicians, and the one thing they’ve all consistently voiced is that if we demand change, they’ll action it."

Obesity is a major global issue and it's something which can no longer be ignored. It's also a matter which is incredibly close to Oliver's heart.

"The bottom line is the next generation will live shorter lives than their parents if nothing is done to rectify these alarming stats," he says.

"Something is seriously wrong with our relationship with food and we need to act now before our health services around the world become overwhelmed by the effects of preventable diet-related disease."

Oliver believes that getting people to sign his petition will mark the first step towards changing the world.

"That’s a bold statement I know, but I’m confident that by harnessing our unified, global voice, we have the power to shape the future," he adds.

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So what does the chef hope to achieve?

"It’s really not rocket science," he says. "I simply want every child to plant seeds, to witness food growing, to tend to it, nurture it, harvest it, have fun cooking it, and most importantly, to enjoy eating it and sharing it with the people they love.

"This is absolutely the heart of the solution – food education is a complete necessity in reversing the poor health of future generations."

In the UK, progressive steps are being taken to teach children the importance of healthy eating and nutrition.

In July 2013, a government initiative launched to transform school food culture. The School Food Plan hopes to increase the number of children eating healthily at school and ensure that all children are able to cook and be confident about their food choices.

jamie oliver ed sheeran

Ed Sheeran shows his support for Jamie Oliver's campaign

Headteacher of St. Paul’s CE Whitechapel Primary School, Darren Rubin, reveals that his school has been working as a pilot for the Jamie Oliver Kitchen Garden Project, which is part of the School Food Plan.

As part of the project, pupils in Years 1-6 are educated about food and nutrition. The children have been taught how to grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables. These fresh ingredients are then put to good use in their two-hour cookery lessons.

"We've built a kitchen classroom on site too which enables our children to incorporate heat into their cooking," says Rubin. "It's great for learning how to make bread or to scramble eggs."

The school even boasts its own bee hive.

Now in its second year, the pilot scheme seems to be doing a sterling job of transforming children's diets.

"We have certainly seen the impact it has made on children," says Rubin. "Firstly, in terms of their willingness to try new things. Fussy eaters are not as fussy and children are much more willing to try food they have made themselves."

Additionally, the children are much more interested in flavours and will often talk about seasoning their food correctly with herbs to enhance the food.

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Facts About Childhood Obesity

Rubin adds that the food programme seems to have a positive impact on self-esteem too.

"Some children who have difficulties with speech and language are confident in front of the camera," he reveals. "They will talk about how they have made a salad, or which ingredients to add to an apple chutney."

Of course, it's always a worry that what these kids are taught at school is not necessarily put into practice back at home, however Rubin believes that many parents have taken this new healthy philosophy on board.

"We have banned junk food from the school. Parents no longer bring in birthday cake or party bags full of chocolate and crisps, but instead bring healthy treats to celebrate the day," adds Rubin. "The children and parents are just as happy."

Meanwhile the man helping to lead the food revolution here in the UK, director of the School Food Plan, Myles Bremner tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that "amazing progress has been made so far".

This, he says, is evident in the 85% take-up on free school meals for all infants. Meanwhile compulsory food education and practical cooking for all 5-14 year olds is now part of the national curriculum, and new food standards in schools ensure that children eat healthy, tasty and balanced food.

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Bremner says it's down to headteachers and teachers, alongside school cooks, to encourage the right culture for healthy eating to flourish.

"Over the last year, we have seen schools and their local authorities perform Herculean tasks to make the changes necessary to be ready for free school meals and deliver cooking on the curriculum," he adds.

"In many cases, schools are tackling years of under investment in good school food. This makes their efforts all the more rewarding."

Of course there's still a long way to go. Looking forward, Ofsted (the schools inspectorate) will be asking schools how they are supporting a healthy eating culture from September 2015. Meanwhile new professional standards are being introduced for the 70,000 school cooks and caterers across the UK.

"We should celebrate what has been achieved so far; and look forward with positivity and consensus to the future," adds Bremner.

And if Jamie Oliver manages to pull his global food revolution off, we reckon there'll be a lot to celebrate.

Sign the #FoodRevolution petition here.

As part of HuffPost’s What’s Working initiative, we’re profiling inspirational people and organisations who are making a positive contribution to society by finding solutions to the world’s problems.

Whether that’s making recycled yoga pants to combat the world's landfill problem, or creating a petition to ensure homeless women have access to sanitary products, we’re keen to share these stories. If you know of a someone who fits the bill, or would like to be featured, email us at ukwhatsworking@huffingtonpost.com.